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John Eby: Concerts will have to get safer as weather gets wilder

Published 3:26pm Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Like I told cellist Piet when he stayed with us in July, we don’t get much Belgium news.
Aug. 13’s Indiana State Fair tragedy before the Suglarland show, when 60 to 70 miles per hour winds toppled the stage onto “Sugarpit” fans, killing four instantly, three died later and 45 suffered injuries, that was all over television.
But it was news to me that a similar disaster befell the Pukkelpop Festival five days later, even though the more than 200 acts appearing in Kiewit, Belgium, included Eminem and Foo Fighters.
There, rain, wind and marble-size hail destroyed three stages, uprooted trees, knocked over light poles and dropped a 15-foot video screen onto the audience.
Sixty thousands fans stampeded for shelter.
Five died and 140 were hurt.
Like the list of rockers dead at 27, these concerts join the Rolling Stones at Altamont in 1970, the Who in Cincinnati in 1979, Pearl Jam in Denmark in 2000 and the Great White Rhode Island nightclub fire of 2003.
Pukkelpop was the fourth stage collapse this summer.
Cheap Trick, a band I saw in 1979, decided not to perform at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest, but the stage imploded and hospitalized three anyway. Aug. 7, Flaming Lips bassist Michael Ivins was almost crushed in Tulsa, Okla., by a 15-foot video screen flung by 80-mph winds.
While Gov. Mitch Daniels attributed the disaster to a “fluke,” we’re probably witnessing the birth of a new industry, since our weather is changing forever, not for better, and scaffolding and entertainment stages seem to be a glaring omission from oversight of buildings, elevators and amusement park rides.
“There is no one state agency or governing body that has jurisdiction to inspect temporary structures like that. The state fire marshal comes in and inspects the other things on the stage — they check the electrical — but they apparently do not have jurisdiction on the rigging and the roof structure itself,” fair spokesman Andy Klotz told Rolling Stone.
Most alarming study: Every hour spent watching TV as an adult shortens life expectancy by 22 minutes.
Beyond 9/11: Sept. 11 I tuned out retrospectives playing on every channel.
So I can’t explain why I found Time’s special silver-framed commemorative issue so mesmerizing (since it reminded this subscriber that I never did receive the black-bordered aftermath edition, though I do have the green issue in only the third departure from red in 88 years).
I devoured every word, cover to cover. Sixty-four pages of world-class print journalism were riveting, where TV’s rehash turned me off. I didn’t know there were only four survivors from above the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower until I read their stories.
It didn’t hurt that war photographer James Nachtwey happened to be near Ground Zero at the watershed instant, almost crushed by the towers capturing the climactic collapse.
Nancy Gibbs validated my nagging worry that despite all the bravado, we have yet to recover. On Sept. 10, 2001, unemployment hit 4.9 percent — its highest rate in four years.
“We watched the bittersweet  unity of the moment dissolve over a decade of pitiless political cage fights, to the point that voters now toss out the ruling party in Congress every chance they get. We are still fighting two wars — as well as fighting about fighting the wars. Nine and a half years from the day, we united for a moment to celebrate the end of Osama bin Laden.”
The fact that former  NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who became part of the story when his personal assistant, Erin O’Connor, wife of a cop from a firefighting family, was exposed to anthrax opening the mail, hammers the point home harder:
“There was, at the moment of the attacks and in the days afterward, a kind of joining of hearts and minds and will in America, to get through this together. Somehow that’s begun to fray, and I think that’s sad. I don’t think it’s a worthy tribute to the people who died, and it ought not to be our legacy.”
Though a fan of Kurt Andersen since Spy magazine, I disagreed with his issue-ending view that “Sept. 11 did not change everything,” though he’s right to the extent that we remain hopelessly addicted to oil and without any discernible energy policy.
40-44: Number of pages of news content the Chicago Tribune is adding to the paper each week. News space exceeds five years ago, according to editor Gerould Kern.
Bored: One in four 18- to 29-year-olds are using Facebook and other social media less frequently. I also read in another survey that two-thirds of respondents weren’t interested in having user-generated content mixed with their professional news content. That study of 1,003 households released in mid-August found Millennials more likely to care about posting comments to sites than older readers. For 18- to 24-year-olds, three times as likely as those 55 and older to say that engagement tools will make them more likely to visit a site. Almost 80 percent of the 55-plus crowd rarely or never comment on stories.
Journalism jobs: American dailies lost 5,200 in 2009, bringing the total to 13,500 since 2007, according to the American Society of News Editors.
Strapping on the iPads: NFL teams are digitizing playbooks, with the Buccaneers and Ravens first.
62 percent: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s disapproval rating gets him named for August to Time magazine’s In the Frying Pan red zone of the three stages of voter disapproval.
Quips, quotes and qulunkers: “I’d like the President to be more aggressive. But he is who he is. That’s his style, and I can’t change that.”
— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Las Vegas Sun. No-drama Obama’s cool campaign style relies on logic and reason more than passionate point-scoring. Two presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936 and Ronald Reagan in 1984, were able to win re-election despite substantial economic suffering by arguing that the country was improving (“morning in America”) and that their foes, welded to past failures, would make things worse. Obama has personal credibility to offer independent voters who find him trustworthy, well-informed and “cares about people like me,” though his perception as a “strong leader” has withered in the four months since bin Laden’s death. Republicans rolled him on the debt ceiling debacle. Did you know the Treasury lost $400 million in taxes and fees from the Federal Aviation Administration shutting down July 23? Obama’s brightest spot would seem to be the GOP field, who will be characterized as ideological opportunists putting politics before progress.
•••
“Somebody who believes that building a strong, solid, educated middle class is ultimately the best thing for America.”
— activist/actor Matt Damon on what kind of leader we need
•••
“This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
— Lady Gaga on appearing on ”The Simpsons” next spring
•••
“Beatlemania left him with something like post-traumatic stress disorder.”
— Brian Hyatt in Rolling Stone’s Sept. 15 cover story on George Harrison, who’s been gone almost 10 years. Friar Park, the 120-room mansion he bought in the English countryside in 1970 with caves, gargoyles, waterfalls and stained glass, kept him so busy outdoors that growing up, son Dhani, 33, thought his dad was a gardener. “He never shut up,” Tom Petty says of the misnamed “quiet Beatle” who was only 27 when the Fab Four split.
•••
“The Irish, with their superior talent, should prevail in the first night game ever in the Big House.”
— Sports Illustrated, Sept. 12, on the most exciting college football conclusion I can recall
•••
Another nine years has passed: Which can only mean one thing. A new Jeffrey Eugenides book, “The Marriage Plot,” out in October.
It’s his first novel since 2002’s “Middlesex.”
He lectured in Dowagiac in October 2005.
No illegal drugs were found in Amy Winehouse’s system when the 27-year-old died suddenly in London July 23, according to a toxicology report  the singer’s family released.
I read that drug testing welfare recipients costs more than it saves in denied benefits.

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